Good burn day quickly gets out of control

By Phil Anderson
Topeka Capital Journal – April 11, 2014

shawnee heights fire 4112014

Firefighters on Friday spent another long day putting out one grass fire after another across all corners of Shawnee County, a familiar routine again this year.

Local fire officials said Friday should have been an optimal day for field burning, a rite of spring for many Kansas landowners who burn fields to help new plant growth. Wind was minimal — below 10 mph for much of the day — which made burnings permissible.

Instead, dry conditions coupled with very low humidity provided the ingredients for out-of-control grass fires.

Mark Engholm, a firefighter with the Shawnee Heights Fire District, said his agency had battled six separate grass fires as of 2 p.m. Friday — “and all of them were after noon.” Several more were reported as of 3 p.m.

As of Friday afternoon, no structure damage had been reported in any of the Shawnee County field fires, some of which threatened residences.

What some people didn’t take into account, Engholm said, was that low humidity when coupled with dead vegetation going up in flames produces a powerful fuel that allows grass fires to create their own wind effect and spread out of control

“There was nothing wrong with burning today,” Engholm said, “but it’s all about being prepared, having a plan and respecting the fire.”

Fire “doesn’t respect barbed wire or property lines,” Engholm said, and people burning fields need to have a plan to control the fire. That means having people stationed around the perimeter of the burn area to make sure the fire is contained. The Shawnee Heights Fire District works with landowners in advance to help ensure field fires are carried out with minimal or no problems, he said

Engholm said the majority of grass fires are contained by property owners, as was the case in one blaze shortly after noon in a field near the 4900 block of S.E. Shawnee Heights Road.

A woman was standing at the edge of the road with a water supply in case the fire shifted directions and got out of control.

Soldier and Mission township fire departments also were kept busy Friday with grass fires in their areas of Shawnee County.

But Shawnee Heights crews were especially busy at midday when reports of three different uncontrolled field fires arrived within minutes of each other.

Around 12:07 p.m., two calls were received regarding out-of-control fires at S.E. 37th and Stanley and S.E. 93rd and California. Crews reported having both fires under control about 30 minutes later.

Shawnee Heights units were then called at 12:17 p.m. to a grass fire near a residence in the 5500 block of S.E. Ratner. Later in the afternoon, they dealt with a significant burn in the S.E. 69th and Paulen area.

Gwen Romine, KSFFA Webmaster

%d bloggers like this: